I thought getting tenure was supposed to be hard.

4 03 2010

I got tipped off about the Humanities Departmental Survey from the American Academy for Arts and Sciences before AHA Today posted on it. However, it’s pretty long so I really appreciated Robert Townsend’s short version of the highlights. While there’s probably material for a whole series once I make my way through the whole survey, here’s the stat via AHA Today that really has me thinking:

Around 98 percent of the historians coming up for tenure received it (but nearly 22 percent of the faculty coming up for tenure left prior to the start of the tenure process).

98 percent? Really? I thought getting tenure was supposed to be hard. Even if you assume that all those 22 percent who left got the message not to bother applying for tenure (and that certainly isn’t true), that would still mean that about three out of four historians who begin on the tenure track get it in the end.

When I finally dive into the survey, the first thing I’ll look for is a historical comparison. Are the hoops faculty have to jump through getting harder or easier? I would have figured they were getting harder. Historiann recently had a post up arguing along these lines. Based on my experience, I would have guessed the same thing.

My first job was at an extremely selective liberal arts school. However, almost all the really old-timers there got tenure with a dissertation and a couple of articles. Nevertheless, they had imposed much stricter tenure standards on the younger faculty (me excluded as it was a one year position). Of course, the old-timers were all men and the younger tenure track faculty were all female, and one of my friends eventually didn’t make it. Last I heard she went into computer programming and probably can buy and sell me several times over at this juncture. Nevertheless, that was pretty traumatic for her, whether the reason was hypocrisy, sexism or a little of both.

Yet these figures suggest that that school was something of an exception. How bad could stricter standards be if 98 percent of historians going up for tenure actually get it? I guess my problem is that I have trouble believing the figure. When I finally get a chance to read the context in the original survey, I promise to revisit this subject again.




2 responses

7 03 2010

I think the key is the stories behind the more than 1 in 5 people who left before tenure, or who refused to go up for tenure. If we add them to the people who are denied tenure, that a flame-out rate of 1 in 4.

I left a tenure-track job that had been a revolving door for 17 years–only one of my predecessors was denied tenure, but there were 3 others along with her who had voluntarily left the job. That kind of turnover rate is indicative of a very hostile departmental climate for the work we were doing, although you could say that 4 out of 5 of us left “voluntarily,” so the tenure denial rate there is “only” 1 in 5. (Yeah, we “volunteered” not to be harrassed and abused any longer.)

I think my successor in that position was eventually tenured–something like 24 or 25 years after the line was created. Awesome

15 03 2010
Adjuncting as a gender issue. « More or Less Bunk

[…] talking about that AAAS Humanities Indicator Project which I first wrote about a week or two ago, and here’s his figure […]

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